Captain America #287 “Future Shock!” The Deathlok saga (part 2 of 4)

Last issue had Captain America dealing with the problems of breaking in a new sidekick and the inner angst of being Steve Rogers, but then he got to ignore all that stuff when he met the clone of Luther Manning, AKA Deathlok. The pair entered a Brand Corporation facility and, well…

…things didn’t exactly work out for Manning ver. 2.0. I know I didn’t mention it last week, and really, it needs to be said: Mike Zeck’s art is stellar. The covers for these issues are just so dynamic and cinematic, and you’re seeing just a fraction of them in the header images on these articles. They don’t make covers like these anymore; either they’re pretentious and artsy, or they’re generic and could be slapped on almost any issue of a title’s run. Seriously, go back and look at Marvel covers over the past couple of years; the number of times a hero is getting their picture taken is ridiculous. But back in the ’80s, covers like this one made a person want to grab the issue off the rack to see what’s going on inside. And unlike a lot of modern comics, quite often the guy doing the cover was also illustrating the interiors, so you got a little taste of what you could expect when you slapped down your sixty cents.

But back to the story. Clone Manning narrates, and wonders why the hell he’s not dead, what with that sucking chest wound and all. But even more surprising, his computer sidekick is still around, only it’s spouting gibberish so fly that Beck would be jealous. Meanwhile, Captain America rages up and attacks Deathlok. They trade blows, and Deathlok takes a shot at Cap and he uses his shield to deflect the laser fire. At the moment, it’s an even match between super-soldiers. All the while, Deathlok calls Cap “Mister Flag”, which as insults go is pretty sad. I can’t tell if Deathlok is being written without a sense of humor, or if J.M. DeMatteis had his surgically removed.

Clone Manning’s computer starts rattling off Deathlok’s statistics, and I swear it’s like I’m reading that Marvel Handbook entry again. Then the computer descends into cyber-madness once more. As Cap and Deathlok beat the hell out of each other all over the lab, Manning ver. 2.0 starts taking a trip down expository lane, recapping the events of last issue. I like how it’s framed, with the left side playing catch up for readers, and the right column devoted to the fight. But Captain America isn’t all about the violence; he doesn’t throw down unless he has to. And based on the verbal back and forth with Deathlok, he realizes that Brand Corp has wiped his memories. It’s a case of amnesia, the most common and commonly misunderstood mental condition in fiction. While Steve Rogers is a powerful man, his true strength is in his ability to inspire, so he calls upon Deathlok to remember that he’s Luther Manning, a man and not a machine. And it looks like Cap might be getting through, because he’s got the upper hand on Deathlok. Unfortunately, the lab techs get involved and swarm all over Cap.

“Your reasoning is sound, Captain America. Allow me to counter your assertions with this lead pipe.”

Cap is down and things don’t look good for our heroes. But Clone Manning might be onto something. Before his computer crashed for the last time, it said something about “reaching out”. Clone Manning figures that maybe he’s supposed to reach out to Original Manning, who despite denying who he was to Captain America was nonetheless shaken up; deep down, he knows he’s more than just a killing machine who’s really bad at one-liners. There’s a man sleeping inside that ugly skull, one who just might have a sense of comedic timing. Deathlok walks over to the clone, as if the second Manning is mentally compelling him. The two link hands, and what transpires next is a memory dump as Deathlok remembers all that was taken from him: the fighting, the defeats at the hands of hero and villain alike, of deaths and rebirths and there being no peace. The Manning clone dies at the original’s feet, but his passing is not in vain, as Deathlok the Demolisher is reborn.

A lone standing technician tries to shoot Deathlok in the back, but Captain America reminds us this is still his book as he uses his shield to shatter the man’s gun, then his fist makes short work of the dude’s jaw. Cap asks Manning if he’s alright, and Deathlok tells him not really because you know, he’s still a half-human murder machine. But at least he’s himself again. Cap tells Manning that slaughtering more goons is pointless and off the table, and Deathlok agrees. Oh, but he does want to at least blow the power generator. But shucks, Deathlok forgot that when you blow one generator they all go. Damn, that’s gotta be one serious OSHA violation there. Deathlok and Cap manage to make it out of the building, and the latter stares in horror at the massive pyre. It’s a core part of Cap’s character that he loathes unnecessary violence and killing. In fact, I recall in an annual around this time when he teamed up with Wolverine.

This was one of the reasons I hated the Bendis era so much: the idea that so many Avengers would be completely okay with Mister Murder McSlash. But that was the beginning of the era of heroic deconstruction, now wasn’t it? But back to this story from a simpler time when heroes weren’t doing stupid crap like making deals with Satan.

The explosions don’t go unnoticed; on Long Island, the Rosenthal family notes that it seems like every fire truck and police car in town is heading towards the disaster. Bernie (Steve’s girlfriend) finds herself having to defend her man from her disapproving dad. Frustrated that she can’t tell her kin that her boyfriend is the living symbol of God and Country, she retreats upstairs and hopes that Steve can at least make it to the house by morning like he promised.

Elsewhere in Manhattan, the man formerly known as Bucky and now known as Nomad leaps from rooftop to rooftop. He’s not looking for trouble; he’s just out trying to pin down the moves that Captain America showed him earlier. Of course, it would be a pretty damn boring comic if a superhero spent all night patrolling and ran into, well, nothing, so he spots two crooks who are robbing a woman. She warns them not to, but the pair scoff at her threats. That’s when a pair of golden disks flash down and smack the guns out of their hands. The former Bucky swings down and soon he’s got things well in hand. He thinks it’s a weird feeling, kicking ass solo, but before he can further ponder such things…

Hmm. The woman was warning those crooks. Judging by the lack of a stutter and the way Zeck draws the scene so we couldn’t see her face, I’m starting to wonder if this is either 1) a superhero or 2) a super-villain. It’s a coin toss either way. The idea that she’s just a normal person seems absurd at this point.

Back with our super soldiers, they’ve buried Clone Manning and Deathlok is feeling a little weird in that he sort of-kind of hopes all those people he tried to immolate got out in time. You know most of them didn’t; trapped underground with the upper floors turned into an unholy conflagration, I’d say Deathlok is responsible for the deaths of hundreds. But hey, he feels bad now, so it’s okay. Right? Captain America points out how Clone Manning was a good man… and I’m not sure how he knows that, exactly. He just met the guy that night, and the only interaction was hearing his backstory and fighting side by side with him. Then again, Deathlok doesn’t know that, now does he? Cap points out all the good bits came from the clone and blah blah blah, Deathlok doesn’t wanna hear it. He just wants to get back home to the future.

Uh… why? I mean, if you read the last recap, 1991 is a mess. And the music isn’t as good as it was in the ’80s either. But before he can jet, Cap asks Manning what the hell happened to all the heroes, since the clone told them they had all disappeared by Deathlok’s time. Manning explains they all disappeared in 1983. That’s a bit of a problem, seeing as it’s 1983 now. Deathlok runs off into the woods, knowing he should thank Cap for saving him, but he’s so far gone he’s forgotten how.

Cap wrestles between running off to Bernie’s house or going after Deathlok, and of course it wouldn’t be a classic Marvel comic without some secret identity angst. Eventually, Cap races after the future zombie cyborg. The pair run all the way back to Manhattan, and I’m honestly not sure how many miles that is and I don’t know how long it takes, but both men wind up in the subway station where Clone Manning first showed up. Deathlok yells and screams for Godwulf, calling him a “two bit Tarzan” (gratifying to know I’m not the only one who thinks a dude running around in a loincloth is weird, even for a post apocalyptic setting), and the cyborg’s calls are answered as he’s sucked back to the future. Only, he’s got a stowaway on this trip: Cap gets caught in the temporal beam with him. Godwulf turns to note Deathlok’s return and is about to ask him what the hell happened to the perfectly good clone he sent back, when Cap appears. Godwulf can’t believe it and gets all creepy touchy on Cap…

…but Rogers takes it all in stride. I’m sure lots of people touch his chest because they can’t believe that pecs so perfect could possibly be real. Deathlok yanks Godwulf away to get some answers and Cap tells Manning to stand down, because they’re not going to get anywhere bullying Godwulf. Manning backs off, wondering why he’s letting Cap boss him around so much. Uh, because he’s Captain frickin’ America, jackass. Godwulf assures both men he has every intention of explaining himself and what’s going on, but first he wants to show Cap what New York circa 1991 looks like.

Yes, Cap, somehow you’ve been transported to Baltimore! While I have no complaints with part one of this story, it was really a lot of set up and exposition to bring us here to this one. And really, part two steps up the action dramatically. On top of that, the story is never bogged down with exposition, which was a real concern, seeing as how Deathlok’s origin and history are pretty convoluted. DeMatteis, realizing this, gave the readers just enough to ensure they had a decent handle on who and what Deathlok is without feeling overwhelmed. And hey, if you wanted to find out more you could’ve just looked up Deathlok’s entry in the Handbook, right? The whole twenty issue run only cost a total of thirty bucks. In retrospect, considering the depth of information and the great art, that was actually a pretty good deal.

Next issue, Godwulf comes clean and our heroes discover what happened to every cape ‘n tights wearing hero in 1983.

Tag: Captain America: The Deathlok Saga

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  • Xander

    It seems like they borrowed the “every hero disappears mysteriously” idea for 2099 until a literal retcon bomb changed that to say the Heroic Age just sort of stuttered out.

    And, yes, I miss the covers actually saying what’s inside the book, too. Sometimes the covers could be somewhat misleading, but that was part of the fun. With the death of the general market in the ’90s, the direct market didn’t really see the need for covers like that anymore.

    The most recent comic that had good, classic covers, in my opinion, was Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. That was a really good series from beginning to end.

  • GreenLuthor

    Yeah, I miss the days when you could look at an issue’s cover and know exactly which story is inside. Yeah, they were misleading sometimes, but sometimes the fun is seeing just how the events on the cover do (or don’t) happen in the issue. (Like all the best Superdickery covers where they drew the cover, then had to write the issue around it.)

    “I can’t tell if Deathlok is being written without a sense of humor, or if J.M. DeMatteis had his surgically removed.” Well, DeMatteis write Justice League International with Keith Giffen, so… actually, that doesn’t make it any easier to tell…

    Even worse than Bendis having Wolverine on the Avengers is the justification; Iron Man says something like “he can do the [presumably unpleasant] things we can’t”. Which… okay, given the character assassination Tony’s been going through for quite some time (i.e., Civil War), I can sort of see him thinking that way. (Though it’s less clear at this point just what Wolverine would do that Tony wouldn’t, given how awful Tony’s been made to be.) But Cap? Nope, sorry. Cap’s not going to accept that reasoning, because the things Cap can’t/won’t do are the things he wouldn’t even agree SHOULD be done in the first place. The idea that Cap would look the other way with Wolverine just so he can retain his Lawful Good alignment is just a fundamental misunderstanding of who Captain America is supposed to be.

    Dammit, I hate Bendis.

    “I’m sure lots of people touch his chest because they can’t believe that pecs so perfect could possibly be real.” Apparently Hayley Atwell did, at least.

    • Xander

      Bendis is one of those writers who don’t really play well within continuity but manage to shine outside of it. I loved Ultimate Spider-Man, but I’ve hated just about everything else he’s written.

      And Civil War was to Marvel what Identity Crisis was to DC: a bad idea that somehow managed to shape the direction of the company for years to come.

      • Kradeiz

        My introduction to Bendis was on the Miles Morales era of Ultimate and while it started out okay, I gave up in disgust after the ‘Spider-Man No More’ arc. (Miles quit being Spider-Man because it got his mom killed and his friends proceeded to be dicks to him for being “a coward”. Bear in mind Miles was like 14 at the time.)

        • Xander

          I didn’t get to the Miles Morales era of Ultimate Spider-Man. I was just reading the trades at the library, and they ended even before Peter was shot.

          • Kradeiz

            To be honest you didn’t miss too much.

    • I recently went through the run of Fantastic Four comics at a Marvel wiki, and noticed once we got into the nineties that the covers morphed into painted portraits that often told you nothing at all what was inside. Disappointing.